The erratic presidency of Donald Trump has presented the Democratic Party with an undeniable ability to pick up congressional seats in 2018, yet many of the party’s divided ranks, just several months into Trump’s reign, have focused on the 2020 presidential campaign.
As ridiculous as it sounds, with more than three years before the next presidential vote, the Democrats are headed toward a 2020 campaign that could feature more than two dozen presidential candidates. Mostly, the moderate mainstream candidates have been pushed aside – or pressured into ultraliberal positions — as the left-wing tries to exert control.
Trump’s deep unpopularity has inspired a wide array of so-called top tier Democrats – up to 11 senators, six governors, and a former vice president – to conclude that they can emerge as the next commander in chief.
With the intra-party battle between liberals and the remaining moderates playing out, certainly Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are prime ’20 candidates. The closest thing to a frontrunner may be former VP Joe Biden, who would probably be president right now, except for the untimely May 2015 death of his son, Beau.
But does Biden want to make a third run for the presidency at a time when, if successful, he would be 78 when he took office? Didn’t he miss his chance?
Meanwhile, the cavalcade of potential ’20 candidates includes obscure congressman and state officials, plus a few celebrities. (Hey, if Kid Rock can be taken seriously as a possible GOP Senate candidate, are there any boundaries left in national politics?)
Any Dem who is not a felon
National media reports increasingly indicate, with a bit of hyperbole, that nearly every Democrat of some stature believes he or she can somehow become president.
“The old saw that every senator wakes up humming ‘Hail to the Chief’ now includes just about any Democrat who isn’t a convicted felon,” quipped Jonathan Tasini, a progressive activist, in a recent remark.
One candidate has already filed, the earliest presidential campaign declaration in history — Maryland Congressman John Delaney, who claimed that his recent appearance at the Iowa State Fair was just another “normal” family outing. Still, establishing his affinity with 21st Century politics, Delaney said in an interview that he was willing to underwrite his campaign from a personal banking fortune estimated at $90 million.
At the same time, the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, is also in the early running, as a big-city mayor who is the ultimate identity politics candidate – a Jewish-Italian-Mexican-American. Supposedly a coincidence, he made a cross-country trip last month to endorse a candidate for mayor in New Hampshire.
Traditionally, as the New York Times points out, it’s considered bad form to start running for president — or even to unofficially explore the possibility — before the preceding midterm election. In this case, that means 2018. Too-early presidential campaigns can divert valuable funds away from important down-ballot races that desperately need funding.
But now, shameless ambition has taken hold, even if an also-ran-arama is the result.
“They used to start coming to talk to you two years before the election. Now, it’s six months after the last presidential election,” said Wall Street billionaire Marc Lasry, a major political donor who has met recently with several Democrats mentioned as prospective presidential candidates.
In an interview with the Times, Lasry added: “It’s gotten ridiculous. Everybody believes they can be the person who will stack up great against Trump. I tell them all that it’s way too early, and that they need a clearer message about what they want to do, not just about opposing Trump.”
Obviously, this 2017 nonsense has gone way off the rails.
For example, among the mentioned White House candidates is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana’s fourth largest city, Pete Buttigieg. Imagine a crowd at the 2020 Democratic National Convention chanting, “Buttigieg, Buttigieg.” Another is Jason Kander, a former Missouri Secretary of State and failed Senate candidate. That’s not much of a presidential resume but he recently hired Bernie Sanders’ former Iowa caucus director and spoke at the Iowa Wing Ding dinner, a classic presidential stopover.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who barely made a dent in the 2016 Dem primaries, has made multiple visits to Iowa and New Hampshire this year. Ex-Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who had switched parties to the Dems just a couple years before he entered the 2016 presidential primary season — and who made a U.S. conversion to the metric system a key issue – may be back again.
Compared to these guys, Julian Castro, Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who just launched a PAC last month to support his widely known presidential ambitions, could break through as the 2017 early frontrunner.
Whatever that means.
Perhaps the most cringeworthy development of 2017, well beyond the fact that some Republicans take the vulgar, juvenile Kid Rock seriously as a Senate contender, is a new crop of wannabe celebrity candidates for president on the Democratic side.
One is a former reality TV star and a billionaire (sound familiar?) — Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, who recently bested the president in a public poll for Oval Office preferences. Which is not hard to do these days.
Actor Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson has also made noises about running, along with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who recently hired Hillary Clinton’s former top pollster.
As for the Dem blue chip candidates, does anyone really believe that Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, or Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, are cut from presidential timber? Beyond the substance, does Hickenlooper fit on a bumper sticker or a campaign placard?
Newly minted Sen. Kamala Harris, with support from the Obama-Clinton bloc of the Democratic Party, demonstrates unmistakable presidential ambitions while the Berniecrats try to chop her down at every opportunity. Harris, from the endlessly deep trough of Dem donors in California, in July completed fundraising swings through the swanky Hamptons in New York and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. The former California attorney general threw a few logs on the fire by embracing a Sanders-like Medicare-for-all.
Another longshot for the ’20 Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton’s successor in the Senate, New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, has tried to make a name for herself in the #Resistance community by opposing almost every Trump nomination to Cabinet or high-level executive positions. She has also has paid more than $1 million this year through her political committees to a top online fund-raising firm. Did she consider that a relatively obscure senator from a Deep Blue state is not what her party needs in ‘20?
In retrospect, the 2016 hapless cast of 17 GOP presidential candidates resulted in a muddled, two-tiered system of presidential debates starting in August 2015. Those in the early, second-string round each time had demonstrated nearly no nationwide support, based on polls, and never advanced in the slightest way, with the possible exception of Carly Fiorina’s 15 minutes of fame.
Heck, the Dem primary debates for “2020” may require three tiers, with those in the bottom slots on stage competing for little more than a participation trophy.
Does the Democratic Party really want to endure the clogged arteries that could result from a 20-plus field of candidates in the early months? Given the cable TV media’s obsession with Trump, we could conceivably have our first Democratic presidential debate in the waning weeks of 2018.
Jim Geraghty of the conservative National Review offered a friendly warning to the Democrats as the 2020 campaign circus spins out of control:
For the lesser-known GOP candidates of the 2016 cycle, the dual-tier debate format turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Candidates polling poorly, usually with the lowest name recognition, were consigned to the 6 p.m. “undercard debate,” the political equivalent of preseason football, with fewer viewers and fewer opportunities to break out. Even in the prime-time debates, there were only so many ways for candidates to say that Obamacare was a mess, taxes needed to be lower, they opposed abortion, and they would never “lead from behind” on the world stage. Long stretches of the debates turned into repetitive rhetorical sludge.
A discerning primary voter could fairly ask some of the lesser-known, longest-of-long-shot, uninspiring, cookie-cutter candidates, “Why are you here?” (Anderson Cooper came close to this in one of the early Democratic presidential debates when he pointed out to Lincoln Chafee, “You’ve only been a Democrat for little more than two years.”) Their agendas, campaign speeches, and commercials were similarly indistinct; the senators and retired governors all started blurring together …
America has many politicians who are unremarkable beyond their inexplicable adamancy that they deserve to be the next president of the United States. For several cycles, these wannabes have treated our presidential primaries as book tours with bigger crowds and more balloons, eating up air time and media oxygen, certain that even if they failed miserably, a television gig, higher speaking fees and maybe another, bigger book deal awaited them after the marathon. The primary electorate’s serious duty of sorting through genuinely qualified candidates is made harder by these globs of candidates, cholesterol clogging up the arteries of democracy.
Those who are happiest about these bizarre developments in 2017 are the campaign managers, aides, pollsters, consultants, advance people and fundraising gurus who will latch onto this swarm of Dem campaigns.
Meantime, the profit-taking in the GOP has already made its mark.
At this early stage, America Rising, the Republican opposition research group, says it is already actively tracking around 15 Democrats and expects its radar could expand to dozens.
The Republican National Committee reportedly has about 20 operatives split between its war room and opposition research shop who are monitoring speaking engagements and filing public records requests for the many prospective Democratic candidates.
Photo: NBC News compilation